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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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June 18, 2004

WSJ - Religious Insufficiently Patriotic Unless God Mentioned

Posted by Ernest Miller

Well, I wasn't planning on writing anymore about the Preamble vs. the Pledge (True Patriots Recite the Preamble - I'll get back to the regularly scheduled technology, law and policy postings soon), but something in this morning's WSJ's Opinion Journal sort of stuck in my craw (Why the Pledge Matters: "Under God" is the firm link to U.S. security). Ostensibly, this article is in support of the keeping God in government and the Pledge, but it sure seems as if it is a subtle dig at the patriotism and loyalty of the religious. Read on...

The long historical truth is that God, whether He exists or not, is good for summoning national pride, communal bonds and the martial spirit--the qualities most necessary to ensuring the survival of the United States at its current level of pre-eminence. (If the U.S.'s current level of pre-eminence is what galls you most, stop reading.)
Note, that using God's name is useful "whether he exists or not." How insulting to the truly religious that must be. That very sentence reduces God to the self-help section of the bookstore. Furthermore, the religious can't truly be riled up to support their constitution and institutions unless you invoke their God. What sad and pathetic patriots they must be.
When in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance schoolchildren stand and say together that their one, indivisible, just and liberty-loving nation exists under God, they are admitting an organizing force in life other than their cute, little selves.
Well, when it comes to this country, we generally recognize only one organizing force - that of We the People. Apparently, such a broad statement of collective action is not enough to get our tykes to escape narcissism. I agree, the Pledge is really a statement of conformity, that doesn't really refer to anything outside itself, which is why I support reciting the Preamble instead.
Arguably, the role of God or religion in the nation's life wouldn't matter very much if the relations among all nations resembled the Garden of Eden. Since that famous, unfortunate Fall, however, men and women have been called upon to die defending their country. That is asking a lot. The willingness to fight for one's nation has been a function of the patriotic impulse, and we summon that impulse, in part, with appeals to a higher purpose.
This is argument? This is rhetoric? If we were in paradise God wouldn't matter much - brilliant illumination of something to contrast reality with. Of course, it isn't the role of God that matters, but the idea of God, because God is important "whether he exists or not." Plenty of atheists have died for this country and its principles. By definition, atheists weren't inspired by God. Unfortunately, it seems, the religious need that extra boost of God mentioning to make the same sacrifice atheists do without God. Hmmm, who is more patriotic in such a case?
Wholly secularizing America's public life, as the Pledge banners wish, is dangerous.
Well, they may wish it, but they aren't going to get it. You can't shut George Bush up about religion. He is constantly seeking God's blessing and praying and publically citing God's name. No one who is serious is claiming that Bush's constant reference to his Diety is unconstitutional. There are plenty of politician's on both side of the aisle who are overtly religious. As "under God" foe Newdow noted in his oral argument before the Supreme Court, we are highly unlikely to elect a president who is not overtly religious anytime soon. So, all the parade of horribles the author presents are unlikely to occur, as we aren't going to have a wholly secular public life even if, God forbid, school children recite the God-free Preamble instead of the "voluntary" God-fearing loyalty oath known as the Pledge.
This innocuous little Pledge and its two words, "under God," has become for school children the last link joining national purpose to God--a union that is this country's best, proven hope for ensuring national strength. When that link is finally broken, the U.S. will start to become, well, France--smart, sophisticated, agnostic and save for nuclear bombs, inexorably weak. That is one test case I'd as soon not try.
Apparently, without "under God" in the Pledge, President Bush, Senator Leiberman and all the other overtly religious politicians will suddenly shut up about their religious views where school children might hear them and all those religious types will turn into cheese-eating surrender monkeys. That is, unless, we toss them an officially meaningless ceremonial deism bone. Man, how weak must the beliefs of the religious be?

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Freedom of Expression


1. Seth Finkelstein on June 18, 2004 05:58 PM writes...

Peter Junger has a great post about what this means to him as Buddhist.

Under God and the Law

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